Wednesday, 7 September 2011

REVIEW: Dirty Dancing

Dirty Dancing – Bristol Hippodrome, Bristol
Writer: Eleanor Bergstein
Director: Sarah Tipple
Choreographer: Kate Champion

Audiences looking for the time of their lives will not be disappointed by the staging of classic love story Dirty Dancing. The iconic songs and sensual moves of the hit Patrick Swayze movie are all brought to life in this fast-paced and vibrant production.

Undoubtedly, there are always going to be qualms when tackling such a cult film. It is clear that this issue is central in the direction of the piece, with some scenes performed in a parody-like manner whilst others are meticulously retraced from one medium to the other. Never-the-less, Sarah Tipple ensures the balance is right.

Set in the Summer of 1963, we’re introduced to Baby (Emily Holt) whose life changes forever when she meets resort dance instructor Johnny (Paul-Michael Jones). Re-evaluating not only her own principles, but also those of her family, Baby is propelled into adulthood learning lessons about life and dancing.

As Baby, Emily Holt combines innocence and sensuality to charm the crowds and whilst Paul-Michael Jones's acting falters, his charisma, sex appeal and dancing triumphs. The jeering that he evokes as Johnny, not only from the women at Kellerman’s but also from the excitable Bristolian audience, cements him in the role.

Charlotte Gooch gives a fine performance as Penny Johnson, the dancer who falls pregnant. Impressing with her dancing and acting, Gooch becomes the driving force for the storyline.

Every hit number evokes pleads from the audience to stand-up and dance. Do You Love Me, Wipeout!, Hungry Eyes, Hey Baby, Yes and She’s Like The Wind are just a few of the anthems which get air-time in an evening of recollection and nostalgia.

The choreography is the true star of the show. Against an impressive back-drop of video and projection (designed by Jon Driscoll), embedding the production in its filmic roots, Kate Champion’s medley of sexy swaying and pelvic thrusting captivates and titillates.

Eagerly waiting for that final moment, when Johnny tells Dr Housman (Lynden Edwards) “nobody puts Baby in the corner,” the auditorium erupts as the audience forgets reminiscing and simply embraces their teenage adolescence, their first love and the summer of 1963.

Photo of London Cast 

Runs at Bristol Hippodrome until Saturday 8 October followed by a National UK Tour. 

Saturday, 13 August 2011

FEATURE: The Minack Theatre

Oscar Wilde wrote, in The Picture of Dorian Gray, “To me, Beauty is the wonder of wonders.” One of these wonders is The Minack Theatre and the inspirational story of Rowena Cade who built the remarkable venue.

Its stunning location, on the coast of Penzance, Cornwall, creates a backdrop that would be rivalled by any theatrical scenic designer. First opened in 1932, with a production of The Tempest, the theatre continues to present a dynamic series of productions from professional to amateur.

On 5th August 2011, I encountered the venue for the very first time, attending a production of Shattered Windscreen Theatre Company’s Cyrano De Bergerac. Adapted by Anthony Burgess, the story focuses on the title character’s appearance and how his large nose becomes an obstacle for his potential romances. Danny Swanson’s portrayal was inconsistent, grasping the comedy of the verse with occasional wit but failing to seize the haranguing pain of the tragedy that later unfolds.

As the character falls for the beautiful Roxanne, played by the plain Emma Nash, my eyes were drawn to the more captivating location. An argument broke out between the pair in the seats, inscribed with previous productions, to my right hand side, who were unable to identify whether it was a pod of dolphins that leaped in the distance or a harem of seals.

Jan Palmer Sayer and Chris Janes’ direction was over the top – attention was grabbed by a large chorus who did not allow the central characters dialogue to be the focal point of the scenes. I eventually lost any attention for the jumbled production and as the magnificence of the sea became the pearls of my eyes I delighted in the calming motions of the waves.

Friday, 22 July 2011

INTERVIEW: Ian 'H' Watkins

Life and Line Dancing with Ian ‘H’ Watkins

From Steps-tacular pop star to trained musical theatre performer to Big Brother contestant, Ian ‘H’ Watkins is now set to star in Joe Graham’s brand-new comedy, Rhinestone Mondays, which runs at The Orchard, Dartford, from Tuesday 25 to Saturday 29 October.

In Rhinestone Mondays, Watkins will play a character that, he says, is “not exactly butch. He loves a rhinestone or two!” Centred around the maverick members of the Warbleswick ‘Monday Night All Star Line Dancing Club’, audiences will find themselves in hysterics as the characters fight and feud over love, life and line-dancing.

“We’re going to get everyone up on their feet and everyone will join in, in parts,” laughs Watkins. “I’ve done lovely projects in the past but this time I just wanted to have fun and who better to have fun with than my good friend Faye.”

Better known to millions as ‘H’, which stands for Hyperactive, Ian Watkins is soon to be reunited with former band-mate Faye Tozer. The pair last performed together on stage in 2001 with Steps, who released 6 albums, 22 singles, including 4 UK number 1s, and sold 20 million records.

After Steps, Watkins began extensive theatre training at the Royal Academy of Music, London, and the Stella Adler Studio, New York. “I just wanted to go back to basics and work on my tools,” he explains. “I loved every minute of it.”

In 2007 Watkins stepped into the Big Brother House, which, he quickly jokes, he would never do again. “It was a big eye opener,” he says. “We rely so much these days on our support networks, whether that be through a mobile phone or an e-mail, all of them are our comfort blankets. The one great thing that came out of it is that I’m still friends with Shilpa Shetty.”

And after coming out of the house, it’s no surprise that Ian Watkins is thrilled to embark on a tour across the country. He says, “I’m so looking forward to getting on the road with Faye. We’re going to have such a laugh.”

Fuelled and fired by a classic country soundtrack of practically every great ‘countreeee’ hit, and also starring Faye Tozer (Steps), Shaun Williamson (Eastenders, Extras) and Lyn Paul (New Seekers), join the fun at The Orchard, Dartford, when Ian ‘H’ Watkins stars in Rhinestone Mondays.

Friday, 1 July 2011

Spotlight on Raymond J Lee

Raymond J Lee came into the spotlight in NBC’s Fame. Since then he has gone on to perform in numerous Broadway shows and is currently in the smash-hit Broadway Revival of Anything Goes in the role of John.

When you originally moved to New York, you were with MTV Network’s Summer Associate Programme, which lead you to be involved with numerous of their broadcasts. Were you auditioning for shows running parallel with this, or was their a break in between that lead to your Broadway debut with Shakespeare in the Park?

My bosses at MTV were so wonderful to me. I would literally show up to work and if I had an audition I would just let them know ahead of time. They would wish me luck and let me go to them. They knew that I was a reliable employee and that I would make sure to get all my work done if I ended up missing most of the day. The only time that there was an issue was when I had a callback for Third Watch during the week of VMAs in Miami but I had an obligation to MTV and had to choose that over Third Watch. It was a hard decision but I didn’t want to leave my MTV bosses in the weeds.

NBC’s Fame series followed award-winning choreographer/producer Debbie Allen’s pursuit of a true “triple threat,” - a performer with personality who can sing and dance. Has it helped you secure Broadway roles that you feel, otherwise, you may not have had the opportunity to do?

Fame was the best performing and professional boot camp I could have ever asked for. It was my first professional job as a performer and I ended up learning so much in the process. I don’t think it helped me secure Broadway roles because it was in the past but it got me ready for the business of show. I also ended up meeting so many wonderful people and we all still keep in touch. Several members from Fame have also gone on to do Broadway shows.

You’re currently starring in Roundabout Theatre Company’s Anything Goes as John alongside Joel Grey. What has it been like to work with a musical theatre legend, who millions have seen as the iconic Emcee in Cabaret?

I was extremely nervous to start rehearsals and to work with Joel Grey. I mean he’s a LEGEND! I was afraid I would spill coffee on him or start speaking jibberish to him! But Joel is one of the warmest, goofiest, most inspiring people I have ever had the pleasure of working with. He is an absolute blast and could not be nicer. If you had told me last year that I would be leisurely cracking jokes with Joel Grey at work, I never would have believed you!

The show has a host of unforgettable Cole Porter numbers. Have you got a favourite song in the show?

There are so many wonderful tunes in this show. I think my favorite song is It’s Delovely. It is such a beautiful song and our two leads, Colin Donnell and Laura Osnes, sing it with such beauty and such charisma. I could listen to them sing for hours. The dance that Kathleen Marshall created with the song is absolutely breathtaking.

Roundabout Theatre Company’s production received nine Tony Nominations and won three – was it a surprise?

You know, we were all hoping for award nominations but we had no idea that it would be 9 Tony Nominations! And we feel so blessed to have brought three of them home to the Stephen Sondheim Theater (Best Revival of a Musical, Best Choreography, and Best Actress in a Musical – Sutton Foster). I think the Tony Awards will always be one of the top ten coolest memories in my professional career. The energy backstage was incredible and it was such a memorable night for the entire cast and crew.

What’s next for Raymond J Lee?

I also love writing and directing! My web series THANK YOU, NEXT just won Outstanding Mockumentary Series at this years LA Web Festival and we are excited to move forward with this project. In addition, I will continue to put out more YouTube covers! Singing is mah thang and I will always be doing it until the day I leave this year. And who knows, maybe you’ll see me on the TV or film screen soon!

Thursday, 23 June 2011

REVIEW: Prostitutes Marry In May

Prostitutes Marry In May – Waterloo East Theatre, London
Writer: Miriam Cooper
Director: Jonathan Kemp

A historical monologue can be found, under the rattling over ground train tracks, in the musky Waterloo East Theatre.

Written and performed by Miriam Cooper, Prostitutes Marry In May draws comparisons between feuding cousins Mary Queen of Scots and Elizabeth I. The similarities become the irony of their rivalry, not only in appearance due to the roles being portrayed by the same actress but also, both fighting their feminine natures whilst trying to remain masculine in line with what society requires from their monarch.

Jonathan Kemp’s direction and basic set leads you through various locations from prison cell to royal court, but it is the characterisation that keeps the audience’s attention. Whilst the script itself comes across as a lecture on the 16th century, Cooper expertly weaves through accent, from English to French to Scottish, with remarkable ease. But there is more to this actress’s performance than merely changing character and accent. Miriam Cooper also acutely manages to differentiate between the Queen’s private and public personas with astonishing poise.

Miriam Cooper is one fourth of Play On Words Theatre Company, who present the production. Founded in 1990, the Kent based directors boast educational performances ranging from Shakespeare through to World War II. It is this educational strand that is cemented throughout the play, making its transfer from Museum to Theatre seem somewhat premature.

Inspired by artefacts and letters, Prostitutes Marry In May steers closer to the narration of timelines, and a Who’s Who of Tudor England, than fully celebrating the dramatic potential surrounding Henry VII’s off-spring.

Runs until 17 July 2011.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Spotlight on Ehud Segev

World renowned mentalist Ehud Segev, aka The Mentalizer, rose to fame on NBC’s The Phenomenon, judged by Uri Gellar and Criss Angel. Ehud will be completing his world tour with two performances in New York City, on 27 and 29 June, of his extraordinary show, also titled The Mentalizer

Born and raised in the Israeli city of Safed, were you brought up with an awareness of spirituality and mysticism or is this something you became more aware of after your reading about the subject in books borrowed from your local library?

That's a great question because I don't remember myself.

It's amazing how as a mentalist I was always drawn to the world of unknown and unexplained. I was searching new worlds and explanations in my mind since I can remember, but I'm not sure it has to do with the area I grew up with. There must have been a few things that influenced me, I just can't recall what they were. I guess the universe simply wanted me to find this path as a mentalist, no matter what, and so I did!

Were you ever intimidated by your own abilities, which in later years lead on to connecting with parallel universes through séances?

I was a very young boy, maybe 10 or 11 years old, when my friends said in a class party: "Let's perform a seance!" I didn't even know what it meant so I asked them and they explained that it's a manifestation of talking to the next world. I was overwhelmed. I was so young I didn't know if it was real or fake, or if it was only a game, but it did touch some secret areas in my heart that kept me learning more and more about it. And so I started doing these séances as a kids' game - yeah, it sounds funny - but slowly more and more people requested to take part in these weird games. Truth is that it was nothing but a game for me, and only later I started giving it my own explanations. I don't think we actually talk to 'dead people' in séances, I think it is a way to communicate with your sub-consciousness. Today I barely do it anymore.

At 16 you faced criticism and scepticism from religious leaders who sought to ban your attempt at the largest nationally broadcast séance channelling slain Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Was it difficult to face that doubt at such a young age? Do you have any regrets about the séance never being performed?

As I’ve mentioned, it was a child's game for me, and I believe I was very naive and pretty stupid because I didn't know what I was doing, but I wanted to do it on a bigger and bigger level. I'm happy it didn't work out in the end, because I don't know what impact that would have on me and my family. But I learned a lot from it.

Today I have some issues with everything that is religion. I'm working on a musical, I’m writing, which is one of the first spiritual musicals ever to be written, where every song is a spiritual lesson to be told. One of my songs is sang by a witch, that has no more powers - only because people stopped believing that magic exists. And she sings: "Here's what I learned: We ALL seek a guiding hand… We pray… To God… To understand! But what we really need, is not a CROSS or a STAR… What we need is a magic mirror: to help us look inside!" So this is what I think. Everyone is looking at religion as if it's his or her saviour. They wear a cross on their chest, or the Star of David and other symbols of religion. But what we really need is first to look deep into our souls and understand what we want, what we need. Only then we can start looking elsewhere.

Do you believe that your abilities and religion can work together in unison or are the two things entirely unrelated?

I'm not a religious man at all, so I'm sure it can! I keep on working on my abilities and developing new methods and techniques to touch more people and hopefully one day make a change in this world. Amen!

Eventually, you put together a performance showcasing your abilities in The Mentalizer, which premiered in New York in 2004. What was the process for keeping your integrity and staying true to yourself whilst creating an entertaining show?

I think that this is truly my purpose in life. Yes, I have some abilities that I’ve been working on since I was a young boy. But I also have another great ability which is a good presence. When I'm on stage I feel that I can truly reach out and touch people. Masses of people. So this is a wonderful combination of entertaining people and touching their hearts at the same time. This can truly bring to a change one day!

What has prompted you to return to New York with your show The Mentalizer, which plays for two nights at the American Theatre of Actors/Chernuchin Theater on 27 and 29 June 2011?

My fans! I have friends and fans all over the world that keep asking me when I'll be performing again! Most of my work is corporate events - I perform as a mentalist for big companies throughout the world and once every few months I open a box-office show and sell tickets. Here's your chance to see me in a theater and not in a private engagement!

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Spotlight on Daniel Reichard

Daniel Reichard originated the role of chief songwriter and original Four Seasons member Bob Gaudio in Jersey Boys. Since then he has gone on to perform in numerous productions and is currently on tour as one fourth of The Midtown Men, a group formed of four stars from the Original Broadway Cast of the box office smash, Jersey Boys.

You met during the rehearsals for the Original Broadway production of Jersey Boys. Do you remember meeting each other for the first time at rehearsals?

Christian, Bobby, and I met in La Jolla for the out-of-town tryout of Jersey Boys at the La Jolla Playhouse. We never met before the first read-thru and had never sung together. They both thought I was crazy, but I won them over with my charm and likability (haha). I met Michael years before when we were doing a workshop of a new musical together, and Michael met Bobby and Christian when he joined up with the Broadway production of the musical. None of us knew what a major success Jersey Boys was going to be when we started rehearsals, and we certainly had no idea that we would love singing together so much that a few years later, we would be touring the continent in our own show. This is a friendship and a working partnership that has a lot of history and it constantly grows.

Were you always fond of the music of The Four Seasons or did the passion develop during your run in the Broadway show?

Like many people in our audiences, we knew the music of the Four Seasons, but we were delightfully surprised when we realized how many of these major hits we heard on the radio were sung by the Four Seasons. It would be like, "Oh the Four Seasons sang this song too?!" I still am a fan. It truly is amazing to think of all of their hits, and I actually love a lot of their songs that aren't as famous. I've obviously learned a lot more of their songs since Jersey Boys came into my life. Their songs are a part of the American experience. You hear them in amusement parks, in your car, at the beach, at your sister's wedding, and on television. You can't be alive in America without knowing at least some of these songs.

Why do you think the music of that era is still resonant today?

The music of the 1960s is truly special. There was such a sharp change in thought and attitude going on and the energy in this music reflects it. The best songs of the 60s have infectious hooks that you want to sing over and over again. They get in your head and they stay there. Emotionally, these songs perfectly identify the sensations of being in love, falling out of love, and mourning the loss of love. These songs were about human experiences, not about just attitude and image. The unapologetic honesty of emotion in these songs keep them fresh and resonant years after they first hit the airwaves.

What do you find strikingly different about performing in a concert tour over performing in a musical? Do you have a preference?

All four of us are actors. We love jumping into the skin of a character and losing ourselves in that experience for a little while. It's so much fun. You get to invent the voice, physiciality, and psyche of someone else, and the process of doing a run of a show lets you develop that character and deepen the experience. That said, touring as The Midtown Men is a completely liberating experience as well, and I am actually enjoying it MORE than I enjoyed doing Jersey Boys on Broadway (which was a lot). We are singing on stages all across the country and we are getting to perform as ourselves. When I get to sing a song in our show, it is my personal perspective that I am representing. It is very natural and very real. Our audiences seem to really enjoy getting to know us over the evening and we enjoy getting to know them. In The Midtown Men show, the songs are the centerpieces, but it is the story of our shared experiences and friendship that connects the whole evening together.

What’s next for The Midtown Men – you’re currently touring America, are you likely to cross the pond and embark on an international tour or is Broadway beckoning?

Well, we are going to be singing all over the place this year- cities and towns I’ve never been to and others that I love going to. We were just invited to sing in Shanghai this fall, so we'll see about that. We do intend to bring this show to other countries. Our first album, which we have produced ourselves, is almost done and we are so excited about sharing it with our audiences. I have to turn down big auditions lately because we have so many concert dates, I couldn't squeeze in a Broadway show. We always say that we will get back to Broadway (maybe together in our show), but for now, touring together is a one-of-a-kind experience, and we are so proud of this show that we created.